Ulrich Erben is born in Düsseldorf in 1940. He studies at the art academies in Urbino and Venice, devoting himself to techniques of graphic design, fresco and painting which he further pursues at the art academies in Hamburg, Munich and Berlin (drawing, painting) in the following years. From 1980 to 2005 Erben assumes a professorship at the Kunstakademie in Munster.
Erben’s first works are landscapes. With the series White Pictures, which he first presents to the public in 1971, he has given up this object reference by the end of the 60’s. Exhibitions such as »Geplante Malerei« in the Westphalian Kunstverein 1974 and his participation at the Documenta 6 in 1977 make Erben a known representative of the new concrete art.
Erben now expands his pictorial concept, taking stronger recourse in the spatial effects of color, owing primarily to the juxtaposition of painted and unpainted surfaces. The creative production process of the picture is thus obscured, and color loses its materiality, appearing to disappear. At the end of the 60’s a full color palette is developed in the Prima Vista-works, in which Erben applies paint »alla prima«, in one stroke. The original concept and the spontaneous application are both equal parts of the picture. Erben’s Birten-Bilder follow this lead, allowing vague references to the world of objects to come to life. The cycle Farben der Erinnerung, which Erben begins at the end of the 80’s, is devoted to landscapes of visual experiences with a spatial connotation, as with the color climate of Italian landscapes in the area around Rome, but also the »color sounds of the north« (Erben). And with the more recent Lackbilder, that come about first in the Villa Massimo in Rome, Erben makes fragmented references to the area of origin as well as to the historical technique of fresco painting – even though the new paint lacquer is applied in monochrome layers. According to Erben these are based on »details from an authentic landscape, in which culture has intervened for thousands of years without erasing the original.« Thus the titles of his exhibitions (»Was ich sehe «, Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal 2004) refer to those visual experiences which the artist develops in immediate reference to the landscape in the medium of color.
Erben’s works take up the theme of color and its special characteristics, its regularities and the space-oriented fields of influence. The visual experience corresponds to the experience of color according to Erben. ›In the field of tension between the object reference and abstraction he has created an opus, whose color resonance and color accords meld to form a symphonic composition with varied recurring motifs.‹ (Museum Wiesbaden, 2004). Erben’s works are represented in countless collections such as Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart in Berlin, in the Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach and Von der Heydt-Museum in Wuppertal.
Ulrich Erben lives and works in Bagnoregio near Rome and Düsseldorf.
Ulrich Erben: Ausst.-Kat. mit Text v. Volker Rattemeyer, Wiesbaden 2004
Liesbrock, Heinz: Ulrich Erben. Der andere Raum, Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster 1999
Weiss ist Farbe, 1968 — 1978, Bilder von Ulrich Erben: Ausst.-Kat. Bielefeld 1998
Elementare Malerei, Bilder und Arbeiten auf Papier: Ausst.-Kat. Städtische Kunsthalle, Mannheim 1984